Let's hear it for biocontrol.
You've seen lady beetles, aka ladybugs, preying on aphids.
But have you seen an assassin bug attack a spotted cucumber beetle?
How about a crab spider munching on a stink bug?
All biocontrol, part of integrated pest management (IPM).
If you access the University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) website or more specifically, this page, you'll learn that "Integrated pest management, or IPM, is a process you can use to solve pest problems while minimizing risks to people and the environment. IPM can be used to manage all kinds of pests anywhere–in urban, agricultural, and wildland or natural areas."
Or, UC IPM's more in-depth definition:
"IPM is an ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on long-term prevention of pests or their damage through a combination of techniques such as biological control, habitat manipulation, modification of cultural practices, and use of resistant varieties. Pesticides are used only after monitoring indicates they are needed according to established guidelines, and treatments are made with the goal of removing only the target organism. Pest control materials are selected and applied in a manner that minimizes risks to human health, beneficial and nontarget organisms, and the environment."
Think of biocontrol as beneficial: "Biological control is the beneficial action of predators, parasites, pathogens, and competitors in controlling pests and their damage. Biological control provided by these living organisms (collectively called "natural enemies") is especially important for reducing the numbers of pest insects and mites, but biological control agents can also contribute to the control of weed, pathogen, nematode or vertebrate pests."--UC IPM
Yesterday we witnessed an incredible case of biocontrol in action.
At Bodega Bay's Doran Regional Park, Sonoma County, we spotted a great blue heron stepping stealthily through a thatch of ice plant in the Jetty campground. It was 6:30 in the morning. As campers slept in their recreational vehicles a few feet away, the great blue heron just kept stepping silently through the ice plant. One step. Another step. And another.
And then it happened. Its long sharp beak speared a rodent. Yes, they eat rodents. It crunched the body from head to toe, breaking the bones, and then swallowed it whole.
Not a pretty picture, but a simple case of biocontrol, compliments of a hungry heron.
Oh, if we could just engage in some menu planning and preparation!
How often have you thought of that after watching praying mantids dine on honey bees, bumble bees, monarchs, Western tiger swallowtails and other beneficial insects?
"Please don't eat the pollinators!" I plead, tongue in cheek. "Why not grab a tasty stink bug?"
Well, last Saturday afternoon, Nov. 19 at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, that's exactly what a mantid did. It nailed a stink bug, held it between its spiked forelegs and ate it, not unlike an Thanksgiving-Day interaction between a two-legged human being and a turkey drumstick.
UC Davis entomology graduate student Charlotte Herbert happened by and took a selfie. Serendipity: one of her class assignments was to take a selfie with an insect.
No doubt she was the only one in her class who took a selfie with a praying mantis eating a stink bug!
The occasion: a Bohart open house themed "Uninvited Guests: Common Pests Found in the Home."
The Bohart Museum, home of a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens (plua a live "petting zoo" and a gift shop) is now gearing up for its next open house, "Parasite Palooza: Botflies, Fleas and Mites, Oh My!" set from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 22 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, Crocker Lane. The open houses are free and open to the public. See schedule.
The Bohart Museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The museum is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on major holidays. Admission is free. More information on the Bohart Museum is available by contacting (530) 752-0493 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's sort of like "The Beauty and the Beast."
Or "The Pollinator and the Pest."
A gorgeous Western Tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus), seeking nectar from a butterfly bush, touched down and began to feed.
It didn't take long for the butterfly to spot a stink bug crawling on top of the blossom. This blossom's not big enough for both of us.
The shield-shaped bug quickly scrambled out of its way.
Stink Bug: 0
"Birds do it," sang Ella Fitzgerald. "Bees do it..."
"Even educated" (insert "stink bugs") "do it." But she didn't sing that; that wasn't part of Cole Porter's lyrics.
But it's true. Stink bugs do it. Unfortunately.
We'd rather they NOT. These shield-shaped insects feed on such crops as tomatoes, beans, peaches, pears, apples, pistachios and almonds.
One of the most colorful stink bugs is the red-shouldered stink bug (Thyanta pallidovirens), which gets its name from the thin red band on its "shoulders."
We recently spotted two red-shouldered stink bugs in our family bee garden doing what Ella Fitzgerald called "falling in love."
We do not want a family stink bug garden. The resident praying mantis does not listen when we tell him to eat the stink bugs, not the pollinators. We suspect it's because stink bugs...well...stink. They produce a chemical meant to ward off predators.
So lately, the stink bugs have been targeting the dwarf peach tree and the cherry red tomatoes. As the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program says on its website:
"Stink bugs attack a variety of fruits and vegetables from stone fruits to pears to beans to tomatoes, often leaving blemishes, depressions, or brown drops of excrement. On green tomatoes, damage appears as dark pinpricks surrounded by a light discolored area that remains green or turns yellow when fruit ripen. Areas beneath spots on tomatoes or depressed areas on pears become white and pithy but remain firm as the fruit ripens. On peaches, fruit turns brown and corky."
Back to the birds and the bees and the stink bugs....It's not every day you see stink bugs mating. That's probably not on anyone's bucket list. And it's not every day you see a female lay her eggs on a guara (Guara lendheimeri) stem. That's definitely not on anyone's bucket list.
Indeed, the tiny white eggs are almost microscopic. But if you look closely, they're barrel-shaped.
So, how do you rid your garden of stink bugs? It has to do with a bucket. See, there is a bucket list! You fill the bucket with warm soapy water and drop in the little stinkers. (Personally, I haven't tried this at home because I'm trying to photograph them. Besides, the peach tree and tomato plants have already produced.)
However, Wikihow.com has published its how to kill a stink bug. The soapy water clogs their "pores" and they "drown within 20 to 40 seconds."
Those Wikihow.com folks sure know how to kill a sting bug. And they timed it to boot!
If you've ever been shoulder to shoulder with a redshouldered stink bug--or nose to antennae--you know this is a bug to boot out of your garden.
It's a pest. Behind that shield-shaped body is a pest.
A redshouldered stink bug (Thyanta accerra) roved around our garden this morning, apparently looking for something to eat. Guard the tomatoes! Defend the plums! Hold onto the nectarines! Shelter the squash!
The stink bug feeds on developing fruits and vegetables, piercing the skin with its mouthparts, sucking the juice, and leaving the door open for undesirable microorganisms.
Why are they called stink bugs? Because when disturbed or crushed, they release an unpleasant odor.
About this time of year, you're supposed to look under leaves for the telltale rows of eggs--which, if allowed to mature--will become stink bugs. Pest control advisers tell us to toss the immature and mature stink bugs into a pail of soapy water.
I must admit, though, that the redshouldered stink bug is a work of art, especially when the morning sun sets the red antennae aglow.
This one didn't enter the soapy water.